Judge Orders Navy To Stop Work On Outlying Field
The US Navy tasted a rare defeat on
Friday, not at the hands of a hostile sea power but at the hands of
US District Court Judge Terrence Boyle in Eastern North Carolina.
The Navy and Marines have been engaged in a bitter conflict with
residents of Washington and Beaufort Counties over airspace issues
and a proposed Outlying Landing Field (OLF) that the services want
to build for carrier-landing practice.
In a lawsuit filed by the counties and environmental groups, and
supported by a strange coalition of antidevelopment Luddites,
anti-military protesters, local residents, and property developers,
plaintiffs charged that the Navy skipped the legally required
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), substituting a cursory
"Environmental Assessment." Boyle ruled that the Navy did indeed
violate the law. Now the Navy can't continue the project without
doing a complete, and very costly, EIS. The Navy issued a statement
promising to appeal this ruling to the 4th Circuit: "[W]e believe
today's decision is the wrong one, both from a legal perspective
and from the perspective of national security.... We will continue
to pursue this matter through the court system."
The Navy wants to move its intensive training operations to NC
from Virginia, where they are wearing out their welcome as wealthy,
politically-connected suburbanites sprawl closer and closer to the
present OLF Fentress in Chesapeake, VA. A contributing factor in
the noise stakes is that the latest Marine plane, the F/A 18 C/D
Super Hornet, is significantly louder than the planes it replaces.
Carrier landings are also a particularly loud maneuver to practice,
as it's routine to go to full power on every touchdown (in case
one's hook skips the wires).
The selected site for the OLF is a 33,000 acre plot adjacent to
Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. The Navy has budgeted $185
million for the airfield, which didn't include money for lawyers --
or the full EIS.
In order to make the move, the Navy and USMC need the OLF and
also want two MOAs, which would make the coast of NC almost
entirely special use airspace. With both the airfield and the MOAs,
the Navy has faced bitter opposition in this state, normally
considered extremely pro-military.
A lawsuit against the MOAs is also pending before Judge Boyle.
This testimony has been heard separately from the OLF case, but
plaintiffs, defendants, and the environmental-impact issue are all
A wide range of people in North Carolina see the Navy/Marine
plans as a threat to safe air travel, tourism, development and the
environment. The sheer volume of traffic expected as 10 East Coast
Super Hornet squadrons try to jam into the MOAs and onto the OLF
has many Tarheels alarmed. There is also a severe bird hazard in
the winter months, as this is the wintering range for exactly the
sort of fowl you don't want to meet at 450 kt -- snow geese and
But there are compelling arguments for the OLF and MOAs as well.
The OLF would be ideally situated between two Naval Air Stations
(NAS Oceana and MCAS Cherry Point). And existing airfields can't
support a steady diet of Super Hornets doing full-throttle
touch-and-goes. Existing, non-contiguous Special Use Airspace (SUA)
requires Marines to reduce airspeed to a non-tactical sub-250kt
while in between at altitudes below 10,000 feet. Other restrictions
complicate and devalue tactical training.
Saturday, local newspapers and politicians were celebrating
victory -- and vowing to beat Navy on appeal, as well. "David has
won the battle," the small, but Pulitzer-winning, Washington County
Daily News quoted a local mayor. Congressman G.K. Butterfield
issued a statement saying, "...[T]he process was flawed, incomplete
and subjective. My hope is that the Navy will now take another look
at this site in a transparent and objective manner."